Story Hunters: Part 1

Today I had a unique experience that is pretty special to Lowell National Historical Park and that I’d like to hold on to. We have many different types of visitors. We have the history scholars, the industry buffs, craft folks, day trippers, students of all ages…a pretty wide variety. Visitors tend to look for information that relates to their interests. Information that they can hold on to and take with them at the end of the day. I had a visitor today in particular that I think is going to do a lot more with some of the information I got to share with her. I had a woman and her sister listen in to one of my introductory talks at the Boott Cotton Mill Museum. Afterwards they stared at an 1840s map of Lowell. I approached them and asked where they were from. She replied Providence, Rhode Island. Then I asked: “What brings you in today?” She pulled out a binder from her bag with a picture on the cover dating to the early 1900s. It was a family portrait in the front yard of their house. Mostly you could see just trees in the background.  She pointed to a young woman in the back row. “That’s my grandmother. Her parents made her come and work in the mill along with her brother. This picture here was taken in front of their house off Mammoth Road in Pawtucket.” That’s what they were looking for on the map.  Next to the house, “a.k.a 7th Avenue” was printed. “Where’s Pawtucketville?”  she asked me. “I live in Pawtucketville and actually I live a few streets away from 7th Avenue!” I showed her the direction in which Pawtucketville would be on the map. She got really excited and told me all about how she and her sister are teachers and came up to Lowell to trace their grandmother’s history and figure out where she did and where she worked in the city. She flipped through the binder and showed me pictures of her grandmother at the age of 17 and at the age of 90. She showed me pictures of her grandmother’s brother. “He was forced to work in the mill too. But, I guess my great grandparents thought he had a lot of promise and let him leave the mill and study at some textile or industry college around here.” I motioned her to come and follow me to a wall covered in photographs and small artifacts. I pointed to a framed diploma and patch. “I think this is the school your grandmother’s brother went to…” textile school diploma textile patch The museum has some objects on display that were donated gifts. There is a 1910s Lowell Textile School graduation patch as well as a 1907 diploma with two velvet bows, one a faded red and another black. The Lowell Textile school was the only higher education school at the time in Lowell that trained skilled workers and/or textile managers with courses in mechanical engineering, advanced technology in chemistry, or scientific management. “I’m pretty sure this is it.” She was so so so unbelievably excited, “Oh my goodness! I didn’t even know! I hadn’t even looked into that part or him that much! That is just so neat!” I told her about the incredible resources and vast collection of archives at The Center for Lowell History at the Mogan Cultural Center right next to our Mill Girls and Immigrants exhibit. If she wanted to keep on digging and tracing her family’s story here in Lowell, that would be a great place to follow up. She was genuinely so grateful for such a small piece of information and I was so incredibly amazed by the entire experience. It goes to show that people are constantly searching for something, whether they consciously or subconsciously are seeking. An old diploma and patch on a museum wall may just be another artifact, or it could be a key. It all depends on perspective, and mine has changed. This object now represents an experience and a piece of someone else’s journey to find her family’s story here in Lowell. It also shows how important museums and artifacts can be and how museum interpreters world-round are an essential part of  connecting people with the past, present, and future. I, myself, was so excited to have been able to witness this moment and help this woman with her search! I know she will take the information I was fortunate enough to share with her and use it as another brick in her path.  This entire encounter got me thinking of my own family’s story and their first experience in the city of Lowell in the 1970s…. Is there some commonality between this woman’s grandmother and my family nearly 100 years later? Until next time, Daniela Sierra    

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